Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

If nothing else, these past 4 years have taught us an abject lesson about the slow crawl of change in Toronto. slowchangeWhy can’t we have nice things? Because, well, change is scary and must be avoided at all costs.

First, there was Transit City. Three years in the planning and then, boom! Rob Ford’s first official day as mayor, he declares it dead. It is eventually wrestled back from his control but not in its initial shape or name and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a pricey and politically expedient Scarborough subway now attached.

Second, Waterfront TO and the Port Lands. This one underway since 2001, charged with revitalizing the rather sorry state of Toronto’s chunk of Lake Ontario. A slow but now noticeable process building public spaces and economic development. Too slow, however, and not noticeable enough (at least from their car seats, driving along the Gardiner) for the Ford Brothers and their ilk at city council. texaschainsawmassacreUnilaterally, Councillor Ford sought to take control of the situation with monorails, ferris wheels and shopping malls.

This foray, fingers crossed, was stymied without too much delay. But the attacks continue, I-don’t-even-know-where-Sugar Beach-is style. What’s with the pink umbrellas and Quebec rocks?

And remember that environmental assessment (EA) undertaken late in David Miller’s 2nd term to explore options on the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway – repair, rebuild or remove? No? Funny thing, that. After getting started, the report was quietly shelved in the fall of 2010 and the remaining money used for other ‘priority projects’. citybuildingThree years later, the EA was resuscitated and completed just this year. This one with significant delays and additional costs now attached.

Then, at last week’s council meeting, another addition to the do-we-have-to bin. After overwhelming approval just 2 months earlier, the Eglinton Connects plan came back to council for some additional authorization, this time to much less overwhelming-ness. Led by the mayor and one of his electoral challengers, the plans came under assault for being too driver unfriendly.

“City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” the mayor declared during the now semi-infamous shirtless protest. “This does not make sense. It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We can’t afford more gridlock than we already have. We can’t approve things that will bring this city to a standstill.”

Not to be outdone in his aversion to any new type of thinking when it comes to traffic planning, playingtothecrowdJohn Tory issued his own reactionary statement, although, to give him credit, he didn’t actually stop traffic to do it. “I have said all along that any proposal that will add to road congestion by reducing lanes of traffic is a non-starter in my books. EglintonConnects will do exactly that and will increase traffic by ten per cent on adjacent residential streets.”

We can’t change, we won’t change. As it was, so it shall always be. Anything else?

There’s most certainly some crass political pandering at work here. The War on the Car rhetoric was powerful last time around in 2010. Why not try going back to that well? Much fertile ground to plough there (not to mention plenty of metaphors to mix).

It taps into a strange and opposing dynamic in the electorate. We want change. We know we need change. We just don’t want anything to be different.eglintonconnects

So it seems no matter how much the public is consulted, how much input is offered up, in the end, any sort of significant change in pattern will arouse a noisy pushback. It might not represent significant numbers but it is loud, it is persistent, it is threatening. At least threatening enough to catch the attention of some of our local representatives.

But here’s my question.

Is it our elected officials’ sole job to listen to their constituents, and react only to the most vocal? Eglinton Connects did not suddenly emerge, out of the blue, dropping heavily onto everyone’s laps. By all accounts, it was a very public, open process. thanklessjobHere’s what we want to do? Any thoughts or ideas to improve it?

Just like in real life, sometimes councillors need to stand up to the bullies and loudmouths, marshal support for projects and ideas they believe in. This is a good plan. It will benefit the city, community, neighbourhood, street. Take a position, based on an informed decision, and sell it. Risk electoral retribution? Maybe. But that just comes with the territory, I guess.

Of course, that’s easier said from the outside when there’s no actual risk involved.

Even one of the more change-friendly city councillors, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has had to beat a tactical retreat on a plan in her ward. Friends of Chorley Park have succeeded in delaying the implementation of a new path through a portion of the south Rosedale ravine, better connecting it down through to the Brickworks, a major tourist draw, still most easily accessed by car. This, despite the fact, it has been in the works for two years, with plenty of resident notification and invitations for input.demagogue

Once it became a reality earlier this year, well, all hell broke loose. Petitions signed. Demands made. To the tune of roughly one million dollars in delays, according to Councillor Wong-Tam.

“My concern is that people are dug in so deep that they are not able to compromise on design,” she said, although she remains “…optimistic that we’re going to come up with something great. I’m optimistic that this is a community that’s going to come together and find a community-crafted resolution.”

The lesson from all this, I guess, is no matter how effective a city councillor may be, they can’t push progress forward on their own. They need support from their residents and the public at large. Get involved and get loud. You see something the city is doing that you like and want it to go forward, let everybody know. Beat the drum.

Unfortunately, it seems to be far easier to be against something rather than in favour of it. angrymobChange might result in something worse. It might be better! But it could be worse!

It’s a constant battle against human nature, fighting for change. The best place to start in engaging in that struggle is to help expose the politicians who exploit our risk aversion for their own gains. They aren’t looking out for the best interests of the city, its residents or the future. They’re beholden to only one thing and one thing only. Pure and utter self-interest.

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr


Open Streets. Closed Minds.

April 17, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr


More Seasonal Thoughts From City Hall

December 30, 2012

(It continues. It? you ask. Yes. It. Here. Today’s holiday musings come from Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale!)

*  *  *kwongtam

1) The Gift of Councilling: What is the one moment in 2012 that struck you as the best example of why it was you became a councillor?

The successful creation of Celebrate Yonge was our four-week pedestrian-friendly festival on Canada’s most famous street. It was an urban intervention, similar to others created in New York City and Montreal, except ours had no city funding or mayoral support. We organized the project in partnership with the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, community volunteers and my office. What we didn’t have in city-funded support, we made up by gathering neighbourhood, labour and corporate sponsorship. It’s quite the accomplishment when one considers that we created the largest, new street festival under the most conservative, pro-car mayor in Toronto’s history. It truly represented the lesson of how we as a city “can” achieve anything we want as long as we are willing to work together.

2) Going Forward: In 2013, what is the one aspect you would like to see happen that would help develop better civic discourse?

In 2013, I would like City Council to lead Toronto in an collaborative, research-driven and transparent discussion on what we should do with the failing Gardiner Expressway. It’s time for an honest discussion about transportation modal shifts and how are we going to plan, design, pay for and build it. We need to engage Torontonians to answer the following questions: What would it take for us to build a sustainable and prosperous city in an increasingly dense urban environment? What revenue tools do we use to pay for it? What should the governance model look like and how do we get there? If we smartly plan for the future, we became globally competitive by creating the highest quality of living standard in the world. How City Council deals with and responds to the Gardiner dilemma is the most important question in this council term.

merrychristmas2012

last of the yearly submitted by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam


Ford-V-Vaughan

July 9, 2012

Nothing it seems is capable of stirring the somnolent, summer-dazed state of the Ford Administration like a broadside delivered its way by Councillor Adam Vaughan. Like a dopey, grumpy bear kicked in the slats while still in hibernation mode – wait for it, I’m going for a seasonal grand slam here – Team Ford wakes with a roar of indignation whenever it sniffs a slight emanating from the direction of Ward 20. Springing into fight mode and shedding its leaves of inaction (Nailed it!), Ford Nation dons the magical Cloak of Victimhood and goes full on DefCon 2 when alerted to a Vaughanian attack.

From the mayor’s standpoint, it’s entirely understandable. Hoping to re-channel the spirit of 2010, suburban-versus-urban mojo into another winning campaign, nobody better summons the loathing of downtown elitism more than Adam Vaughan except maybe Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. Whip smart, smart-alecky and familiar with basic concepts of city building, Vaughan is everything Mayor Ford isn’t. And the mayor and his most ardent supporters despise him for that. Since anger serves as fuel for Ford Nation, an object for their ire is what primes the pump.

Thus, the Toronto Sun columnist and former Ford PR flack, Adrienne Batra, had to engage in some pretzelling of logic to refer to Councillor Vaughan’s latest criticism of the mayor as a personal attack. The point of the councillor’s comments as I read them, Ms. Batra, was that because of Mayor Ford’s absence in doing anything, well, mayoral, the space is filled with his off-the-field antics. Or, involvement “…in an inordinate amount of unusual situations”, as you refer to them.

So the story then becomes all about Councillor Vaughan instead of the underperformance of Mayor Ford. The councillor’s angry, still seething about Ford’s victory. He’s a spotlight seeker, constructing a platform for a run at the mayor’s office in 2014. It’s just personal, just politics. There’s nothing of substance to his criticisms. The mayor’s performance is beyond reproach except maybe of the friendliest type from the likes of Adrienne Batra. All else is simply cheap politicking.

The curious thing for me, though, in this on-going saga is the councillor’s motives in all this. As a former journalist, he must be well aware of the optics at work. He’s the bête noire of this administration and with each critical utterance toward it only becomes bête-er noire-er. It has to be an intentional stance he’s taking, this outspoken gadfly who receives as much enmity as accolades every time he takes aim at the mayor.

Any publicity is good publicity as they say. Keeping visible while in opposition. Grooming himself to be the most logical opponent to Mayor Ford in 2014.

It’d be foolish or naïve to rule the possibility out. As Matt Elliott wrote last week, Toronto’s downtown core and East York didn’t play an insignificant role in Rob Ford’s successful mayoral bid. Any major shift against him there could further dampen his re-election chances. So perhaps Councillor Vaughan believes that relentless, merciless slagging of the mayor will so diminish him in the eyes of urban voters that the inner suburbs will have to swing even harder toward the mayor in order for him to have a hope in hell for a second term. A trend which is not yet materializing.

It’s a strategy that comes with considerable risk for the councillor. For every downtown vote he swings away from Mayor Ford, there could be a suburban vote that hardens in the mayor’s favour. The numbers still favour the politician who can swing a majority of suburban votes their way. Besides—

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE FUCKING 2014 ELECTION, FOLKS!

Why can’t we extend the same, I don’t know, courtesy toward Councillor Vaughan as we did then councillor Rob Ford, and assume not everything he says and does is about running for mayor? Maybe he’s just another straight shooting, telling it like is, Johnny that we all viewed Rob Ford to be back in the day. Maybe, like Rob Ford circa 2009, Adam Vaughan is just fucking angry with the current direction the mayor is trying to take the city and has trouble keeping a lid on it. Folks loved Rob Ford’s frankness. But somehow Adam Vaughan’s is smug, self-serving, angry vitriol?

But before I take the Rob-is-Adam, Adam-is-Rob, I Am the Walrus comparison too far, it’s worth pointing out that Rob Ford’s angry tirades have proven to be largely illusory which is the source of the doldrums the mayor currently finds himself in. The out of control, tax-and-spending Gravy Train was little more than the figment of his blinkered small government mindset. It was what we would crudely refer to as pissing into the wind.

So far, nobody’s been able to prove Councillor Vaughan wrong on his anti-Ford administration screeds. There has been an appalling lack of leadership from the mayor’s office. Mayor Ford’s needed no help from Councillor Vaughan in having his antics overshadow his accomplishments in governance.  The mayor has only himself to blame for being sidelined and perhaps the only motivations in Councillor Vaughan’s continued verbal assault on him is to keep it that way. It’s just better for everyone concerned.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayoral Learning Curve

July 6, 2012

Things Mayor Rob Ford just seems to be learning since becoming mayor of Toronto:

1) It isn’t really a part time job.

2) How to properly negotiate driving a vehicle past a stopped streetcar.

3) Anger is a great campaign tool but not so much a good governing tool.

4) Public transit is a tough nut to crack.

4a) 3-peating a word like an incantation doesn’t always make it happen.

4b) The private sector is fickle about what it’s actually willing to pay for.

4c) Never underestimate somebody just because they’re a girl. Even a blonde one.

5) He isn’t the least politically astute politician in his family.

6) Making a public spectacle of your weight loss program doesn’t really help you cause. (Refer back to point 5.)

7) Probably should’ve followed my true dream, like a football in football or sports broadcasting. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.”

8) A bylaw prohibits street vending of hot dogs and sausages in Etobicoke.

9) Probably should’ve paid a little more attention to what was going on around City Hall during previous 10 years as councillor. (See point 8.)

10) Your public behaviour matters a little more now that everybody knows who you are.

11) Oh yeah. Being a cop would’ve been cool too. (See point 7.)

12) It’s easier getting things done when you’re popular.

13) Adam Vaughan really, really gets under my skin.

14) Can’t punch Adam Vaughan every time he pisses me off. (See point 10.)

15) Dougie can’t kick box Adam Vaughan every time he pisses us off. (See points 10 & 5.)

16) Toronto Star reporters scare easily. Especially the smaller ones.

17) A lie really does get halfway around the world before truth even has time to put its shoes on.

18) Lies are a little more difficult to manage afterwards, though.

19) Not using a cell phone while driving is a really dumb law especially since it’s rarely enforced.

20) A mayor can only vote on an item at council once and his vote only counts as much as everyone else’s even if he has a mandate from the people.

20a) A strong mayor system would be good for me but bad if someone like Adam Vaughan were ever to win. As if. (Refer to point 5.)

21) Being mayor does give you a better seat for council meetings.

22) Rather be hated by everyone at the Star than Sue-Ann Levy. She kind of scares me.

23) Always keep your eyes on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He really, really wants my job.

23a) Sometimes can’t tell Councillor Minnan-Wong and Kristyn Wong-Tam apart. Their names are so close.

24) Giorgio uses great smelling cologne. Like apple fritters. (That doesn’t mean I’m gay or anything.)

25) It’s easy to get distracted when you don’t really understand the bigger issues.

26) Having just 3 numbers in 9-1-1 makes it too easy to call.

27) Taxes pay for roads.

27a) Taxes pay for police.

27b) Taxes pay for snowplowing.

27c) Not sure all taxes are evil. (See point 5.)

28) I’d really like to get rid of that Land Transfer Tax.

29) (See point 25.)

30) Besides widows and orphans, the budget chief doesn’t think anything’s funny.

31) Scarborough is really far from Etobicoke.

32) Some people actually choose to take public transit even if they can afford not to.

33) Two years in mayor time is like eight years in councillor time. It never ends.

34) It really is a cyclist’s fault, at the end of the day, if they get killed. The roads were made for cars, trucks and buses. I’ve won a cycling award so now I can say that with authority.

35) All I really want during my time as mayor is for the Argos to win the Grey Cup. Leafs or Blue Jays winning would be good to but less likely than Adam Vaughan becoming mayor.

36) Don’t really get basketball.

37) Oh. And one more thing. As mayor I’d really like to take a ride on a police horse.

compiledly submitted by Cityslikr


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